CHAMPIONSHIP MATTERS Crossmolina’s Derek Hegarty chases Burrishoole’s Ciarán McManamon during last year’s Mayo Intermediate championship quarter-final clash at MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael Donnelly
SPEAKING on my own behalf, I’m happy that the club season will effectively be over once the club championship ends on September 20.
The prospect of going training for league games that are going to be played on some unknown date in the future wouldn’t appeal to me and a lot of other club players.
For a squad like ours, championship is the be-all and end-all. And depending on how your club championship goes, it would be hard to keep everyone together and motivated to play the likes of promotion or relegation league matches out in November or December.
We are pretty tight on numbers so ‘starred’ league games are a big hindrance to us too. We have two players in the Mayo senior squad at the moment — Conor Loftus and Jordan Flynn — and it goes without saying that we’re a better team when we have them.
But I can see where the County Board are coming from in relation to ‘starred’ matches because their hands are tied with inter-county fixtures.
With the Divisional Cups and the Michael Walsh League replacing the Senior Leagues, we know now exactly when games are being played for the season. Instead of being in limbo, and wondering when exactly the season will finish, we know exactly.
That allows club players to make plans for things outside of football.
I know the argument has been made as well that league football gives lads ‘competitive’ games. And that’s true, the standard is high and the competition is great.
But the reality is that we’re lucky to be playing football at all this year, so I’m looking forward to concentrating on championship and giving that my best shot.
Personally, I’m itching to get back out and playing matches again. So much so that I got my dates mixed up at the weekend and thought we could go back into full contact training on Sunday. So I jumped out of the car before training, mad for road, and only spotted the cones in the four corners of the pitch when I ran in!
Not being able to play football for more than three months has really whetted the appetite. Watching old games back on TV, and even seeing how we slipped up so badly against Burrishoole in the Intermediate quarter-final last year, leaves you wanting to get out there again to try and put things right.
After losing that game last year we were all rock bottom, but we managed to rally the troops and beat Louisburgh and Islandeady in the league to stay up in Division 2. But because we had something to fight for we were able to motivate and lift each other again.
This year, I just feel it’s better for us to wind down after our championship ends.
DESPITE 2020 being such an unprecedented year, and playing any sort of football seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, it’s disappointing that no league football will be played this year.
It was, ultimately, the decision of a large number of clubs in Mayo, who voted 18-15 in favour of playing Divisional Cups instead and abolishing the league.
This means that if a club secures safety in the championship in the group stages, it means they will now only play a total of three ‘competitive’ games this year.
Because no matter how you look at it, divisional cup games are not ‘competitive’.
Unfortunately, allowing clubs to vote on whether they wanted to play senior league in 2020 was always going to be decided by the bigger clubs who have county players in their ranks. Because it’s now the norm that there is no expectation for county players to play league football.
That culture that has been created is a huge disadvantage for teams with their county players, who would be weaker and therefore may be in danger of getting relegated. And that’s fair enough from a selfish point of view for clubs who voted against playing the league.
But the issue is much bigger.
Unfortunately, for smaller clubs who are aspiring to play higher division league football, looking to improve and be more competitive in the long run, their best interests have fallen on deaf ears.
League football to a lot of clubs in the lower divisions can be equally as important as championship, but it’s being treated as a cheap knock-off by the more privileged.
It’s also worth noting that 15 clubs didn’t bother to vote at all, for reasons only they can tell you.
The initial proposed fixture calendar from Mayo GAA’s CCC may have had its problems; mainly that clubs would have to wait until Mayo were knocked out out of the championship to play relegation/promotion finals.
Plus, clubs would be playing league football after the championship had ended.
But this hasn’t changed under the new schedule, and the Michael Walsh League Final is now fixed for the first week in November.
It’s worth bearing in mind too that before the deadline for clubs to vote on the abolition of the senior league had passed, the government had accelerated the re-opening of the country even further to the point where a window from June 29 to mid-October was available for club football.
Surely these extra weeks could have been used to run off the league comfortably?
But the bed was made at that stage and, from the outside looking in, it seems clear that once again the inter-county game has dictated and trumped the best interests of club football.